Don’t be offended if I sent you this link and said nothing else. Please understand that replying to individual questions about this or that lens eats up a lot of my time and prevents me from developing original content for a larger audience – yourself included. So read the post and watch the video below as I did my best to answer your (and others’) request. If you still have questions, I suggest you join group discussions either on facebook or EOSHD and do some more research on your own. There’s no absolute answer to “which lens should I buy?”. It’s all in your heart and mind.
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Tito Ferradans here from the Anamorphic on a Budget guide and the upcoming Anamorphic Cookbook. So, there’s this question I get asked AT LEAST twice a day: “Hey dude, I watched all your videos and errrr… I still don’t know what lens to buy! Can you help me?” and, sure, I can! I replied to every single message I got so far. Facebook, emails, comments, instagram, whatever. The problem is it takes me quite the time to help each person and that’s not an efficient solution because tomorrow I’ll end up replying something very similar to somebody else. I was inspired to write this post after reading a great reply by Chris Bold on EOSHD and decided to write this post to help anyone tormented by the question of “which anamorphic should I buy?”
“There’s really no one piece of advice that’s going to fit everyone’s needs. The best way to decide on your first anamorphic is to research, research, research.
Tito’s Anamorphic blog is one of the best starting points. And you won’t find a larger collected body of anamorphic knowledge than this forum. Search it deeply! Also look at test footage on Youtube and Vimeo of various lenses to see if a particular brand of lens produces an aesthetic that really appeals to you.
Watch some films shot with anamorphic. I just re-watched the original Mad Max, and realized there are some shots with horrible aberrations at the edges, and the film has barrel distortion throughout. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. What matters is how the images made me feel, not how razor sharp or technically precise they were.”
– Chris Bold, 2016
This is oriented to those who never used an anamorphic lens before and desperately wanna be a part of the game. No, it’s not the final word about which lens should one choose and there are PLENTY of different ways to approaching anamorphics, but, once again, if you’re starting out now, you better start with the basics. There are usually a few other branches to the original question like I want sharpness!, I want flares!, I have so and so as taking lenses, I use this or that camera, I want it for less than $50 bucks, I want something easy to use!.
Heads up: nothing fulfills all of these requirements.
“Once you find a lens or two that falls within your budget, search EOSHD and other forums to see what others have built to get the most out of those lenses. You’ll find that there are different strategies to mounting them… from ‘bailing wire & bubble gum,’ to buying specialty parts, to custom-fabricating parts on your own, and many options in between.
1.33x adapters don’t have the sharpest image quality and don’t do well in low light, but are often the easiest to use. They tend to be lightweight and adapt easily to taking lenses. Usually good flares but less oval bokeh. They are relatively easy to acquire and will run you between $500-800. Not a bad choice for starting anamorphic.
Big projector lenses will give you that nice 2x oval bokeh, but vary wildly in terms of flare and image quality. They are invariably heavy so they require a certain amount of adaptation and support (which adds even more weight).
Although I don’t have one, there are some dual-focus lenses that appear to deliver great images. But dual focus seems to present another set of headaches if you’re shooting something with lots of movement. Probably not something you want to take on as a beginner. Dual focus owners can speak better to the learning curve and the time involved to get good focus during dynamic/complicated shots.”
Anamorphics don’t have a 24-70 f/2.8 – a lens that can shoot pretty much anything. Each adapter has its quirks and widely different price tags. In this post I’m aiming towards simplicity, towards a learning journey and not for a definitive answer. Most of the lenses I picked as “beginner” lenses have 1.33x stretch, which leads to a resulting aspect ratio of 2.36:1, almost perfect Cinemascope with no need for cropping or tweaking the camera settings. One step at a time and you’re gonna feel at home shooting anamorphic in no time!
The Panasonic LA7200 is one of the most common entry-level anamorphics. Its advantages are clear, it has large glass, light build, not extremely hard to find or super expensive and it’s a focus-through adapter, meaning that you’re gonna handle your camera the same way you always did, focusing with your spherical lens. It’s a great match for modern zooms like the 24-70 and it’s the widest anamorphic adapter out there, going as wide as 28mm with no vignetting on Full Frame. Oh, you want sci-fi flares? Sure, the Panny’s got them.
Its downsides are softness around the edges and the need to stop down the taking lens to f/4-5.6 to get sharp images. Close focus is also an issue, with the extra challenge of “how do I cover this front glass??”. The cheapest way is taping the diopters to its front. Needless to say it’s quite risky, but works wonders. If you want more info, check the LA7200’s in-depth review!
The Century is the cheap alternative to the Panasonic. With the same focus-through handling, you focus using the taking lens. Glass is not as great, but its compactness brings the advantage of being easily modified to hold diopters. Some of the older Centuries come in non-standard mounts, so you need to do some modding, but that’s also easy. It still goes very wide, at 35mm for Full Frame and has awesome blue flares. Optical downsides are the same as the Panny’s: softness around the edges, lower f-stops on the taking lens and challenging close focus. If you want more info, check the Century’s in-depth review!
The SLR Magic 1.33x Anamorphot is a renovation of the concept behind the Panny and Century. You still use your taking lens for focusing, but SLR Magic added a “Near” dial which allows for good quality and close focusing at the same time at the expense of infinity focus. It also has standard threads at the front and back, so no need for modding anything. This one doesn’t go as wide as the others but I had great results pairing it to Canon’s 40mm pancake. The recommended aperture is f/2.8 or slower, so it’s also not great for low-light and fast lenses. Flares are stupidly intense and that can be considered both good and bad, depending on personal taste.
The Anamorphot’s greatest advantage is that it’s readily available at several retailers and buyers get top-quality support from SLR Magic if they have any issues with the lens. I believe this adapter is one of the key stones in the increasing interest for anamorphics lately. If you want more info, check the SLR Magic’s Anamorphot in-depth review!
These are the only projection lenses in the list – I’m considering them as identical – and the only one with 2x stretch. It used to be one of the most common and cheapest anamorphics on eBay because it “lacks” the “vintage character”. I won’t go into that subject in this video, so here are some advantages of the Blue Star: it’s sharp all across the frame (at any aperture), easy to buy and a the perfect candidate for single focus attachments (Rectilux, Rangefinder or FM) down the road. The 2x stretch leads to noticeably oval bokeh, an anamorphic trademark, but the modern coatings mute any strong flares, resulting in a much cleaner image. The widest you can go, on Full Frame, for full sensor coverage, is 85mm, but if you’re extracting a 2.4:1 crop from the center of the frame, a 60mm focal length should be enough!
The bad news are these adapters are heavier and bigger than the other lenses mentioned so far, requiring lens support. If you haven’t got a single focus attachment this is a double-focus setup (you got to focus your taking lens AND the anamorphic at the same distance to get sharp images). The resulting image is also a 3.56:1 stripe against a black background, so you’ll get better results shooting 4:3 or cropping the sides in post. If you want more info, check the Schneider ES Cinelux MC 2X Anamorphic in-depth review!
These are my four strongest suggestions for anyone starting out with anamorphics. The Panny and the Century were two of my first lenses and I still like them very much today for their simplicity. Small steps is the best way to go since there’s A LOT to learn. Trying to encompass it all at once will very likely make you want to give up. Go out and get a lens, learn how to play with it an then start working on its downsides to improve them. This process will naturally lead you through all the steps in order to master anamorphic shooting and all of its quirks.
“Ultimately there is no perfect anamorphic solution. Every choice has benefits and drawbacks. The only way to know the best choice for your is to list our your needs, search through the options, and find the type of lens that most closely matches your needs.
What Bioskop said, [‘To hell with sharp, as Anamorphic lenses are all about the defects they produce’]. It is okay if your anamorphic images aren’t perfect – they aren’t meant to be.
Most importantly, MONEY = TIME. If you save money buying a cheap anamorphic, the more time you’ll have to spend getting it to work. So they key the questions are: what’s your total budget, and how much spare time are you willing to spend building your rig?
I saved money buying some B&H’s, but the time it took me to get them to where I needed was enormous. If I had to do it over again, I might have chosen a different route. Then again, I learned a LOT in the process.”
Buying your first anamorphic lens is an important step, but once you get started you’ll realize you are making it a much bigger deal than it actually is. I don’t have the first lens I bought anymore. Nor the second, third or fourth for that matter. I believe this is true to most anamorphic enthusiasts because going through the lenses is a very experimental process: sometimes I find a feature I really like in a lens and then I keep it for a while, then I get tired of it and let it go. Trying to find the perfect lens right from the start is not the right way to go because when you think you finally found it you’ll start to see its problems and get seriously disappointed.
If you want some help along the journey, subscribe to my YouTube channel, check my previous videos and head on to the blog for an extensive guide – for free! – and other useful tools plus this super cool and exclusive t-shirt. If you want more detailed assistance of which lens to buy, I work as a consultant and, for a fee, will help you with your specific case. I’ll help choosing taking lenses (or finding an anamorphic that suits the ones you already have) and making recommendations that are cut to your own scenario. Contact me through email and let’s talk!